Saints close to perfect, even if they are still the No. 3 seed

NEW ORLEANS -- It doesn’t seem right that the New Orleans Saints are still stuck in third place in the NFC after a performance like that.

But the Saints (11-3) still have a realistic path to the No. 1 or No. 2 seed. And no matter where they wind up, it obviously bodes well that they are capable of the kind of excellence they displayed in their 34-7 rout of the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night.

It was as close to perfect as it gets in the NFL. And quite frankly, it was the kind of complete performance New Orleans had been seeking all season.

Drew Brees was an absolute master on the night when he broke Peyton Manning’s career touchdowns record, completing an incredible 29 of 30 passes for 307 yards and four touchdowns. Michael Thomas made another argument in his MVP candidacy with 12 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. And perhaps most importantly, the Saints’ defense responded in a huge way after last week’s 48-46 loss to the San Francisco 49ers -- despite losing key defensive linemen Marcus Davenport and Sheldon Rankins to season-ending injuries and starting safety Vonn Bell to a short-term injury.

The Saints will finish the season with a tough test on a short week at Tennessee on Sunday, followed by a Week 17 trip to Carolina.

There are a variety of ways the Saints can move up in the NFC pecking order. But their simplest route to finish as the No. 1 seed is to win out, have the 49ers lose one more game (vs. Rams or at Seahawks) and have the Packers lose one more game (at Vikings or at Lions).

The Saints can move into the No. 2 seed if the Packers lose one more game.

Thomas’ own record chase: The night belonged to Brees. But his go-to guy also continues to make history. Thomas now has 133 catches this season -- breaking his own franchise record of 125, which he set last season. And he now needs just 11 catches to break former Colts receiver Marvin Harrison’s NFL record of 143 in a season, set in 2002.

Man, what do the Saints have against the Colts? Not only did Brees break Manning’s record, but the Saints also celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their Super Bowl victory over Indianapolis by recognizing the 2009 team on the field at halftime on Monday night.

Promising trend: What a gut-check performance by the Saints’ defense after they just had their worst performance of the season last week against San Francisco. They held the Colts’ sixth-ranked rushing offense to 46 yards in 17 carries. Rookie safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson was outstanding as Bell’s replacement until he left with a concussion in the fourth quarter (he led the team with eight tackles, including two tackles for loss). Linebacker Demario Davis -- who deserves his first invitation to the Pro Bowl of his eight-year career on Tuesday night -- was impressive with three tackles and two passes defensed. And cornerback Eli Apple bounced back from a tough two-week stretch -- a well-timed statement after the Saints just claimed New York Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins off waivers earlier in the day.

Pivotal play: It might seem insignificant now. But Saints running back Dwayne Washington deflected a punt on Indianapolis’ opening drive when the score was still 0-0, setting up a field goal for a quick 3-0 lead. Plays like that make huge impacts in closer games. Plus, the special teams deserved some love on a night when the Saints didn’t even punt until the fourth quarter.

Disturbing trend: The Saints lost Pro Bowl right guard Larry Warford to a knee injury. He would obviously be hard to replace if he misses significant time. But the silver lining is that New Orleans' other Pro Bowl guard, Andrus Peat, should be back from his own injury soon. And veteran Nick Easton could potentially slide over after playing well as Peat's backup.